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Engineering research boosted by Science Foundation Arizona

December 10, 2007

Capping off its inaugural year of funding several research initiatives, Science Foundation Arizona (SFAz) has been a major catalyst in enhancing Arizona State University’s research portfolio. This statewide public/private partnership made possible by an appropriation from the Governor and state Legislature awarded more than $8 million to ASU research awards in 2007.


“The state legislature has demonstrated economic vision by providing the resources to jump start several high merit, high impact research programs that will benefit our region,” said Rick Shangraw, ASU Vice President of Research and Economic Affairs.

The investments by SFAz include nearly $1.1 million in Small Business Catalytic Awards to help Arizona-based research programs further develop existing research to the point of technology commercialization; $1.75 million in Competitive Advantage Awards to seed fund research with the greatest potential to secure significant federal grants; $525,000 for a K-12 Discovery Program to create a world-class teacher workforce for Arizona schools; and $1.85 million to support 37 ASU graduate student research fellowships.

In addition, SFAz’s Strategic Research Group program (SRG), granted nearly $3 million to four outstanding ASU research collaborations. The SRG program is designed to help build a world-class science, engineering and medical research infrastructure in Arizona by investing in highly innovative research programs.

“In its first SRG effort, SFAz will foster, grow and cement research partnerships with significant industry leaders in the state such as Honeywell, BP, Motorola, and Intel,” said William C. Harris, SFAz President and CEO. “These collaborations further anchor these industries to the state.”

ASU scientists from the Biodesign Institute, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering will initiate several of the projects, which include matching funds from industry partners.

The research projects touch upon three areas of strategic importance to Arizona — sustainability, information and communications technologies, and biosciences. A requirement of the program was that the industrial partners fully endorse the projects with a one-to-one match. “These are true partnerships, sharing talent and resources in a way that will ultimately benefit Arizonans both economically, and also through the outcomes achieved in these collaborative programs,” Harris added.

“The significant investment that SFAz and several industry partners have made will bring together world-class scientific talent to tackle some of the major sustainability challenges that face our society,” said ASU’s Shangraw.

The research collaborations are wide-ranging and have the potential to have enormous implications for the people of Arizona in the areas of biomedicine, communications technologies and renewable energy. The ASU projects are:


• A two-year, $2.2 million grant to establish a research collaboration with British Petroleum (BP). The team will use grow and harvest photosynthetic bacteria to create a renewable energy source. The project is led by Bruce Rittmann, PhD, director of the Center for Environmental Biotechnology at ASU’s Biodesign Institute, professor in Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering; and Wim Vermaas, PhD, professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

• A one-year “Discovery Award” grant of $500,000. This funding solidifies collaborations between ASU, UA and several other highly experienced industry partners to establish a center for research and development to develop innovative semiconductor nanostructures for photovoltaic devices used in the generation of electricity. The project is led by Yong Hang Zhang, PhD, Professor, ASU’s Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering, Dept. of Electrical Engineering.

• A Planning Grant of $50,000 for research to demonstrate controlled-environment production of biopharmaceuticals. The project is led by Chieri Kubota, PhD, University of Arizona and Guy Cardineau, PhD, of ASU’s Biodesign Institute and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

• A Planning Grant of $50,000 to strengthen existing partnerships with Arizona State University and Motorola with a goal of establishing a federally funded Photonics Research Center. The project is led by Cun-Zheng Ning, PhD, ASU’s Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering, Dept. of Electrical Engineering.

“At ASU, we have made a conscious effort to integrate the various SFAz award programs,” said Neal Woodbury, director of the Biodesign Institute’s Center for BioOptical Nanotechnology, who is both coordinator of the BP biofuel collaboration and lead scientist on an additional SFAz Competitive Advantage Award. “You need three things to have a real impact on the Arizona economy: a good scientific program aimed at solving a real world problem; early stage industry involvement in the research project; and training the workforce, particularly at the PhD level, to take technologies into the commercial sector.”

The rigorous review process for proposals to the SRG program, as in the other SFAz grant programs, was patterned after reviews conducted by federal agencies. Experts in the areas of each proposal conducted mail reviews, followed by the research partners presenting before a full panel of experts in the three strategic areas. The four ASU exceptional proposals were selected from 28 submissions.

Additional information on all of SFAz’s programs can be found at

About Science Foundation Arizona

Science Foundation Arizona (SFAz) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization initiated in 2006 by the Greater Phoenix Leadership Inc., Southern Arizona Leadership Council and the Flagstaff 40. Its goal is to build and strengthen scientific, engineering and medical research programs and infrastructure in areas of greatest strategic value to Arizona’s competitiveness in the global economy. SFAz will invest in partnerships between nonprofit research institutions and industry; other science, engineering and math programs; and in the education pipeline to help Arizona create a knowledge-driven economy. For more information, visit

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